Samba game

This is a complete guide to the rummy game Samba.
I will explain how Samba is played.
I will tell you all about its rules and variations.
Sounds good? Let’s dive in…


1: What is Samba?

2: Melds and Card Value

3: Gameplay

4: Other Variations


1: What is Samba?

In this chapter you will see some basic info about this popular game!
I will show you what the game is all about.
Then in later chapter you will some winning techniques.

Samba is a game variation of Canasta. Canasta games differ and have certain variations of the rules depending on the region and on the number of players involved. Accordingly, the way of scoring is different and very often the rules for melding or drawing cards are altered.

Samba is a popular Canasta variation and it was developed by John Crawford in the early 1950s. In this game, a sequence of seven cards of the same suit, with no wild cards or black threes, is called a “samba”.
So, the game belongs to the Canasta family, and in some places it is known as Samba-Canasta, but it does differ from Canasta itself.

Samba can be played with 2, 3, 4, 5 or even 6 players. An interesting thing is that with two, three or five players, everyone plays for themselves, but when you are playing with 4 or 6 players, you play with a partner.

So, Samba is played with 162 cards, three decks of 52 cards and 6 jokers.
When there are 2, 3, 4, or 5 players, 15 cards are dealt to each player. On the other hand, when there are 6 players, each player is dealt 13 cards.

Then the next card is placed face up on the table to start the discard pile, and the remaining cards are stacked face down beside it, to form the stock.
The goal of the game, just as in other rummy games, is to score points for melds, which means making combinations of cards that you place face up on the table. If you are playing with your game partner, then melds belong to a partnership, i.e., you play as a team and share the melds and points.

This also means that if you begin a meld, your partner can add cards to it, and vice versa. The value of a meld is measured by the sum of the values of the individual cards in it.

2: Melds and Card Value

In this chapter you will learn how melds are made.
You will see how the cards are valued in Samba.
Then, you will find out how to win points.

In Samba Ace has a value of 20 points. King, Queen, Jack, 10, 9, and 8 bring 10 points, while 7, 6, 5, and 4, as well as black 3 have 5 points. Wild 2 is valued 20 points and joker is valued 50 points.

As for the melds, just as in other rummy games, you can make groups and sequences. However, in Samba there is something specific with number seven. This means that a group of seven or more equal cards is a canasta, and a sequence of seven cards is known as a samba.

In order to end the game by going out, your team must have melded at least two sambas or two canastas or one of each.

Groups and Canastas

So, as already explained, a group is a set of three or more natural cards of the same rank. For example, you can get three queens, or three eights, etc. Of course, wild cards can be used to substitute for some of the cards of a group. However, there are some rules linked to using wild cards. There must be at least twice as many natural cards as wild cards. And another important thing is that there must not be more than two wild cards in a group.

If you have a group of seven or more cards, it is called a canasta. If all the cards in it are natural, then it is a pure canasta, which is indicated by stacking the cards together with a red card on top. If, however, the group contains one or more wild cards, it is known as a mixed canasta, which is indicated by stacking the cards with a black card on top.

Further cards, beyond seven, can be added to a canasta, but if you add wild cards to a pure canasta, this degrades it to a mixed canasta.
It is also possible to meld a group, or even a canasta of black threes, but black threes can only be melded on the turn in which the player who melds them goes out.

In Samba, you can have more than one group of the same rank of cards and keep them separate.

Sequences and Sambas

Unlike in Canasta, in Samba you can actually build sequences. A sequence is a set of at least three natural cards of the same suit, and they are of course consecutive in rank. Sequences can be extended to a maximum of seven cards. This complete sequence of seven cards is called a samba. Then you cannot add any additional cards to a samba.

Furthermore, when it comes to a samba, wild cards and threes cannot be used in it. Therefore, only five different sambas are possible in a suit, consisting of the ranks: 4-10; 5-jack; 6-queen; 7-king; 8-ace.

Red Threes

You can meld a red three as a single card if you wish to be eligible for a bonus, but this is not a must. Every melded red three is worth 100 bonus points, however this is only the case if you have the required two sambas or canastas necessary to end the game.

If you (or you and your partner together in a team) have managed to have melded all 6 red threes you receive a bonus of 1000 points instead of just 600 points.

Nevertheless, if you do not have the necessary sambas or canastas for ending the game, then you receive 100 penalty points for every melded red three.

Also, keep in mind that if the round is finished and you have one or more red threes in your hand, then you will be penalized with 750 points, no matter the number of red threes that you hold.

You may also use the red threes to block the discard pile, in the same manner as you would do with the black threes or the wild cards.

Black Threes

Black threes can be melded in groups, but only on the turn on which you go out. They also block the discard pile for the opponents when discarded.

Going Out

When a player goes out, the play ends and the hand is scored. Going out is possible in two cases. You can either go out by melding all your cards or by melding all but one and then discarding that last one.

However, there is another condition on which you can go out. However, you are only allowed to go out if your team has melded two sambas, or two canastas (pure or mixed ones), or one samba and one canasta.

If you do not have the required sambas or canastas, then you must play in such a way as to retain at least one card in your hand.

This means that you are not allowed to meld all the cards in your hand. If you meld all your cards except one, then instead of discarding it you must end your turn by saying pass, and keep the card. This is the only case in which you are allowed to pass instead of discarding.

If you see that by the cards you can go out, then usually you need to ask your partner, if playing in partnership, if you can go out and then abide by the answer. If agreed upon before, you can go out without consulting your partner.

Evidently, if there is no one to go out, eventually the stock will run out of cards. Then, if there is only one card left in the stock, then the next player who draws from the stock will take just that one card rather than the usual two, and will complete his or her turn, melding and discarding the usual way.

When the stock is empty, play continues until the next time someone wants to draw cards from the stock (this will generally be at the beginning of the next player’s turn, unless that player prefers to take the discard pile). As soon as a player wishes to draw from the stock but no cards are available, the play ends and the hand is scored, with no one getting the bonus for going out.


When a player goes out, each team scores plus the total value of the individual cards it has melded, and minus the value of the cards left in their hands. Then, there are additional bonuses that may apply.
For red threes, players get special bonuses or penalties. Each samba is worth 1500 bonus points, while each pure canasta (which means without wild cards) is worth 500 bonus points. Each mixed canasta (with a maximum of two wild cards) is worth 300 bonus points. The side that goes out scores 200 bonus points.

As for the scoring, the goal of the game is to reach a score of 10,000 points and the first team that manages to reach or exceed this score at the end of a hand wins the game.

If it occurs that more than just one team manages to reach this score at the same time, then the team with the highest score will win.

You can find a scoring program for Samba designed for Windows. Peter Muro of Glenville Software has produced a Windows Scoring Program for Samba. This might interest you. The software is free to download and use and currently it is available for PC only. The program automatically computes scores and payouts for individual players or teams and, as suggested on the page, it is best used on a laptop so that it can be placed on or near the card table and players.

3: Gameplay

In this chapter we will go through the course of the game.
You will see how the game is played.
You will also see further how the cards are to be valued.
The gameplay starts with the player that is left to the dealer and then it continues clockwise.

When it is your turn, you first need to draw two cards from the stock. Then you examine your hand and see if you can make some combinations. If you can and wish you can meld some cards from your hand. After this, you end your turn by discarding one card.

If your team has not yet melded, then the first time that you meld, the value of the cards that you meld must be at least the minimum value shown in the following table.

The minimum depends on your team’s score to date:
Score Minimum Initial Meld
0 to 1495 points 50 points
1500 to 2995 points 90 points
3000 to 6995 points 120 points
7000 points or more 150 points
negative score 15 points

Scores for red threes and bonuses for a samba or canasta do not count towards meeting the minimum meld.

As in all other rummy variations, it is possible to draw from the discard pile instead of drawing two cards from the stock, but this will occur in two situations. If you have in your hand two natural cards which match the top card of the discard pile in rank, you can take the pile, but if you first meld the top card together with the two cards from your hand.

If you have not yet melded, you are only allowed to the pile if you actually meet the initial meld requirement using the top card of the discard pile plus cards from your hand. You can do this by first taking the top card from the discard pile and melding it together with the two matching cards from your hand. If this is your first meld, then meld further cards from your hand in order to meet the minimum requirement. Then you can take whole of the rest of the discard pile and make any further melds if you wish. You end the turn by discarding one card.

The second situation in which you can draw from the discard pile is if you already have on the table a sequence meld or less than seven cards, and you see that the top card on the discard pile will fit on any end of the sequence. Then you are allowed to take this one card, but then you take it only from the discard pile and add it to your sequence. This means you do not draw two cards as usual.

As you could read above, it is impossible to take the pile or its top card when the top card is a three (red or black), a two or a joker. Therefore, if you discard one of these cards you automatically block the next player from taking the pile.

Canasta players should note that in this game there is no concept of freezing the discard pile. In fact, the pile is effectively frozen all the time. You can never take the pile to add the top card to an existing group, unless you can produce two more natural cards of that rank from your hand.
Also keep in mind that you are not allowed to take the pile or its top card to make a new sequence meld. The top card can only be taken if it fits onto the end of a sequence that is already on the table.

Two sequences of three cards already on the table cannot be merged into a samba when you meld the connecting card. However, you can to merge two group melds of the same rank on your turn if you wish.

Strategy hints

You should probably keep in mind that every samba always contains an 8, 9 or 10. This means that if you are trying to make samba of spades, the chance for doing it is small if another player has a canasta with 2 eights, nines or tens of spades. Then in this case you should consider rearranging your hand to form true canastas.

Therefore, watching what others have and thus making calculations is important if you are planning to win. This is hence a relevant technique.
Furthermore, if you have a sequence consisting of 8, 9, and 10, it would be advisable to meld them since your partner may have the missing cards.

Also, remember that red threes are only bonus points when you have the two required sets to go out.

In samba wild cards are not as important as in canasta. Since they also block the discard pile, you may use them to stop the opponents obtaining the discard pile, especially if the discard pile contains cards you need to form your own samba(s).

Be mindful that every time it is your turn you take two cards from the stock but discard only one card. Hence, the number of cards in your hand grows steadily. This is why it is important to strategize wisely and attempt to make melds as soon as possible. To do this you need to follow what other players have and thus calculate.
With some practice, you can be great in this game.

4: Other Variations

In this chapter I will go through some other interesting variations of the game.
You will see how these other games are played.
You will also learn about the online possibilities.

As mentioned in the above chapter, with some practice you can really be great in this game since the game is not difficult and many people entirely enjoy it especially those who love combining different strategies.

As other rummy variations, people who love strategic games and forming combinations love Samba as well. Another reason to love it is socializing and having fun with other players. People usually say that they enjoy rummy games because they can relax and hang out with other people who share their love.

So, to practice the game, you try online versions as well. You can find it on the internet and download it to your mobile or desktop device and practice any time with the computer or with your friends online. You can also try and find it on online gaming sites. This is a great way to play the game especially if you are not able to play it with real material cards for any reason or if your friends are not available. Another good thing is to practice and get more comfortable with the game.

One game that is similar to Samba is Bolivia, but in this game you can only make melds consisting entirely of wild cards. A meld of 7 wild cards (twos and/or jokers) is called a bolivia and is normally worth 2500 points. To go out, two 7-card melds are needed, of which at least one must be a sequence meld (escalera). As you could see, there are even similarities with Loba.
David Mallen has published rules for Sambola, a variant incorporating features of the New Zealand Canasta variant Jonola – and Black Samba, a variant in which a wild card can be used in a sequence meld.

Peter Jakeman, Canasta Advisor of U3A (UK)  has published rules for Trey, a form of Bolivia that can be played by 4 players using 3 decks, and Quad, a 6-player version using 4 decks (Microsoft Word documents).

Antonin Jaun’s German language site has rules and information for Samba and Bolivia and their variants.

Ronald Magazzu’s book Royal Canasta describes a three-pack Bolivia variation incorporating melds of red and black threes (“Royal Canastas”).